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San Antonio’s Homeless Wait and Hope for ’50 Dollar Man’ to Show

October 27, 1995

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Hanging out among the rock piles and broken beer bottles under the Nolan Street Bridge, Larry and his homeless buddies waited for the 50 Dollar Man.

He’d been showing up at the homeless shelters on either side of the freeway overpass every Wednesday for the last three weeks, handing out stacks of $50s and $20s from the window of his pickup truck.

Larry and his buddies didn’t want to miss him if he showed _ but they were a little skeptical, especially after the melee that broke out last week.

As they passed around 40-ounce beers wrapped in brown paper bags on the warm October afternoon, their eyes darted to the Salvation Army a block to the east and the Christian Assistance Ministries shelter a block to the west.

``I can run either way,″ said gap-toothed Larry, a 47-year-old Vietnam veteran who asked that his last name not be used because he doesn’t want his mother to know he’s homeless.

The 50 Dollar Man _ a homeless man who struck it rich _ wants to remain anonymous, too. He will use only his first name, Mark.

``The important thing is that I stay anonymous and then I can continue helping these people,″ he told the San Antonio Express-News this week. He declined an interview with The Associated Press.

The 36-year-old benefactor, a blond man with a neatly trimmed mustache, usually shows up wearing jeans, a casual shirt with rolled-up sleeves and silver-tipped black suede cowboy boots.

He said he was homeless for six months in Orlando, Fla., 14 years ago when he got laid off from a lumber yard: ``I was helping out some street people and they stole the last $80 I had, and then I was out on the street.″

He returned to the Midwest to join the family business _ manufacturing boiler parts. Eventually he sold that company, and moved his wife, his two children and his aircraft parts company to San Antonio in April.

``I found God,″ he said, and wanted to use his wealth to help others.

He has become an angel to the street people on Skid Row, eight blocks from the Alamo and the River Walk of pricey shops and cafes.

Because of him, many homeless people walk around with new Walkmans and tennis shoes. Some pooled their money for a hotel room last weekend, watched football and ate pizza.

But a shelter administrator says the cash is causing trouble _ street people are buying booze and drugs and the publicity is attracting those who aren’t even needy.

``I guess it was OK until I found out all they did was have a beer party,″ said Irma Mellon, director of the Salvation Army shelter. ``This has gotten out of hand. I wish it would stop.″

The benefactor told the San Antonio newspaper that he didn’t care what people did with the money.

But this week he switched from cash to $20 Wal-Mart gift certificates _ and he handed them out on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, disappointing people like Larry and his buddies.

On Wednesday, instead of dispensing cash, the 50 Dollar Man delivered cases of diapers and toiletries to a women’s shelter, wrote a check for $1,750 to pay the $40 weekly rent of people living at the Salvation Army and asked the kitchen staff if they needed another truck to deliver meals. He had slipped into the shelter after the waiting crowds had gone.

He first made a money drop in August but didn’t start doling out cash regularly until a month ago, when he pulled up in his new pickup and enlisted the help of four men living at the Salvation Army shelter to act as guards.

As homeless people lined up, he began handing out $50 bills from the window, open just a crack. When he ran out, he went to the bank, got a stack of $20s and passed those out, too.

By the third Wednesday, a crowd of roughly 150 had gathered. Fernando Garcia, a 34-year-old who lives on federal assistance because of his paranoid schizophrenia, was at the end of the line when chaos broke out.

``People were screaming, yelling, pushing. Then the man with the money went down. The line shifted around and people jumped each other and someone snatched the money from him,″ said Garcia, who eats lunch at the Salvation Army.

Michael Janiga, who works at the shelter doing laundry and helped hand out Wal-Mart coupons Tuesday, said the 50 Dollar Man’s giveaways were getting out of control, ``so now it’s kind of a hit-and-run kind of thing.″

So a day later, on Wednesday, dozens of street people congregated outside both shelters, waiting and hoping.

``Where’s the money man?″ they asked each other. ``Is the money man coming today?″

Irene Avila, 18, left Michigan to find her baby’s father and needed $138 for bus fare to get home. ``My boyfriend is giving me trouble so I’m going to leave,″ said Avila, her back bowing under the weight of the carrier strapping her 4-month-old child to her belly.

In the shade of the shelter’s eaves, two young men boasted about how much they’ve grabbed.

``I got $120 _ two 50s and a 20. I jumped on the hood of his truck to get it,″ said Robert Walker, 28, who was wearing a diamond-encrusted gold-colored watch. He also got two Wal-Mart coupons: ``I sold one to someone for $10 and gave another to a friend who needed clothes.″

Irene Reyes, who brought her two daughters and granddaughters, was here two weeks ago trying to get the Salvation Army to pay her $189 water bill when a man pulled up and handed her a $50. She used it to pay the debt.

Her 20-year-old daughter, Eren Saucedo, who has a 4-year-old and 6-month-old, said she could use money to buy a mattress but was getting tired of waiting.

``If you want to go, go,″ said Reyes, who says she’s 35 and looks 50. ``But I’m staying right here and getting my $50.″

But like most of the others, she got tired and left by mid-afternoon and never saw Mark walk into the shelter and cut the rent check.

Under the Nolan Street Bridge, Larry was still waiting. He put aside his paperback mystery and thought about dinner and what he’d do with a little cash.

``I’d buy a big old jumbo beef Po’ Boy sandwich with big jumbo fries and a salad,″ he said. ``It costs $3.50 _ according to my standards that’s not cheap. Who can afford an 8-ounce steak on the streets?″

___

EDITOR’S NOTE: Julia Prodis is the AP’s Southwest regional reporter, based in Dallas.

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